DIVERGENT VIEWS ABOUT SPIRITUAL REVIVAL – Barna Research Group, 1998


The
most surprising finding of this study was that only a small minority
of church-goers — just 1 out of 7 (14%) — could accurately
describe the term spiritual revival.2
Comparatively, even among unchurched adults, 7% offered a
“correct” account of revival. Another 1 out of 4 church attenders
(25%) offered a description of revival that was so vague, it was not
possible to decipher whether or not they actually possessed a
realistic perspective about revival, even after follow-up probing by
interviewers. That means that more than 6 out of 10 churched adults
(61%) possess significant misconceptions about revival or do not
understand the term at even the most basic level.”


(Ventura, CA) A study released earlier this
year by the

Barna Research Group
shows that a substantial gap exists between
the perspectives of Protestant senior pastors and the beliefs and
religious practices of the laity within those churches. In
particular, key differences emerged in terms of church identity,
theological perspectives, and ministry involvement.

A new study finds that the issue of spiritual revival could be
added to that list of differences. The research — commissioned by
Gospel Light and conducted by the Barna Research Group — indicates
that church leaders and congregants hold disparate views about
spiritual revival and its implications for the Church.

Getting a
Handle on Revival

The most surprising finding of this study was that only a
small minority of church-goers — just 1 out of 7 (14%) — could
accurately describe the term spiritual revival.2
Comparatively, even among unchurched adults, 7% offered a
“correct” account of revival. Another 1 out of 4 church attenders
(25%) offered a description of revival that was so vague, it was not
possible to decipher whether or not they actually possessed a
realistic perspective about revival, even after follow-up probing by
interviewers. That means that more than 6 out of 10 churched adults
(61%) possess significant misconceptions about revival or do not
understand the term at even the most basic level.

The laity’s lack of clarity about revival stands in direct
contrast to what most of them would have experienced in their church
during recent months. The study discovered that 3 out of 4 pastors
(75%) said they have preached a sermon on the subject of revival and
how each individual in their congregation might participate in
revival-oriented ministry within the past six months.

Other
Differences

There were several key differences that further illustrate the
gap between pastors and laity in regards to revival.

Two-thirds of pastors (66%) agreed
strongly that spiritual revival is the single most pressing issue
facing the Church in America today. However, only half of adults who
attend Christian churches (51%) agreed that revival is the top
challenge facing the Church. One implication of this finding is that
the job of motivating and mobilizing the laity to contribute in
revival efforts may be more difficult than pastors would otherwise
expect.

The typical pastor was also much more
optimistic than was the average congregant regarding their church’s
willingness to facilitate revival. Among pastors, 2 out of 3 (67%)
agreed that their church is committed to doing as much as possible
to bring about spiritual revival in their area. However, among
church attenders, slightly more than half (56%) agreed with the
statement.

Pastors were also significantly more
likely than were church attenders to assert that their church
specifically asks the congregation to fast or pray for revival (66%
to 40%, respectively).

The only apparent similarity between pastors and their
congregations involved the proportion who believe that spiritual
revival is currently occurring. About half of both groups said they
believe that revival is taking place (54% among pastors and 50%
among adults).

The View From
the Pulpit

The study also found that most churches engage in activities
specifically to help foster or facilitate spiritual revival these
days. In addition to most pastors preaching sermons on the topic of
revival during the past six months, 2 out of 3 pastors (66%) claimed
to have encouraged their congregation to fast or pray for revival in
that same time frame. A slim majority of pastors (52%) said that
they have organized a special prayer group or prayer event within
their church specifically for revival. Overall, 4 out of 10 churches
(40%) have engaged in all three revival-oriented activities in the
past six months.

In terms of the profile of those churches that are the most
ideologically supportive of revival and the most active in
facilitating it, there were several significant patterns.
Revival-oriented churches were more likely than average to be
described by their pastor as charismatic or Pentecostal. But the
revival-oriented segment is also comprised of a disproportionately
large percentage of Southern Baptist and Baptist churches.
Regionally, revival-oriented churches were more likely than average
to be located in the South. Pastors of these churches were less
likely to have a seminary degree and were more likely than average
to be 53 and older.

Churches which were indifferent toward revival tended to be
affiliated with mainline denominations and were described by their
pastors as liturgical and theologically liberal. Suburban churches,
congregations located in the West and Northeast, those led by
seminary graduates, and those pastored by Baby Boomers (pastors ages
34 to 52) also were more likely than average to hold indifferent
attitudes about revival.

Many pastors seem to struggle with how they should
appropriately emphasize revival to their congregation. On the one
hand, most agreed that revival is the single, most important
challenge facing the American Church today. On the other, when asked
to identify the most significant challenges facing their church (and
to provide any answer that came to mind), none of the pastors
interviewed in the research mentioned revival. This inconsistency
between pastors’ attitudes about revival and their church’s pressing
challenges indicates that most pastors believe that revival is
important, but, it does not make the list as one of the most
significant objectives of their church.



George Barna
, president of the firm that conducted the research,
described some possible reasons for the divergent views on revival
between pastors and church-goers. “Remember that pastors live to see
spiritual revival happen. Every day they are focused on ministry and
are immersed in a ministry environment. Consequently, it is
virtually impossible for them to remain objective about the
spiritual climate of the nation and the existence of revival.
Emerging from the spiritual deadness of the eighties and early
nineties, any public enthusiasm about revival can seem like a
groundswell of energy for spiritual reawakening. The typical
Christian, on the other hand, is not very involved in faith matters
and interprets teaching, discussions and activities regarding
revival in a very different manner. Pastors live for revival; most
believers are simply waiting to see it.”

Barna also pointed out that because pastors and individual
believers use terms such as revival rather loosely, and because the
two groups have significantly different definitions of revival, it
is reasonable to find such differences of opinion about the presence
of revival. “And our research also demonstrates that many pastors
mistakenly assume that their congregation believes the same things
that they believe. The truth is that congregants tend to pick and
choose the elements of a pastor’s theology and teaching that they
want to embrace, and reject the rest. This is likely the case with
thinking about revival, too.”

The State of
the Church

The perspective that revival is currently taking place — a
view held by 1 out of 2 church-goers and pastors — must be
reconciled with the fact that the Christian Church in the U.S. is
not showing any visible signs of widespread spiritual revival. Since
1997, there has been no change in Americans’ participation in
church services, Bible reading, Sunday school attendance,
involvement in small groups, the percent of adults who experience
the presence of God in church worship services, church volunteerism,
or the size of the born again population in the country.

Many Christian churches have actually experienced a decline
over the past year. The average church size has dipped from 102
adults in 1997 to just 91 adults in 1998. This corresponds with a
15% drop in the annual operating budget of churches, down from
$123,000 to $105,000 in the past 12 months. Also, since the early
nineties, church attendance and Bible reading among the nation’s
adults have declined appreciably.

These data, Barna explained, indicate the need for greater
accountability in discussions regarding revival. “If pastors
consistently suggest to their congregations that our nation is, in
fact, experiencing a widespread, national spiritual revival — when
the Church is not growing and the fruits of that supposed revival
are not evident in any measurable manner — the Church is placed at
a significant disadvantage. We run the risk of anesthetizing the
nation’s population to the necessity of involvement in personal
spiritual renewal as well as engagement in revival-oriented
activities. Thus, it is possible that errant claims of widespread
revival could hinder the position and integrity of the Church.”

Barna added that there are reasons to be encouraged about the
prospects of spiritual revival, despite some of the outcomes of the
survey. “Americans, in general, are more interested in spiritual
matters than they have been in a long time. At the same time,
Christians are certainly more sensitized to the issue and
significance of revival. And regardless of what research shows, when
God chooses to send His Holy Spirit to impact a nation, it will
happen. The key is for the Christian community to maintain a
diligent effort of prayer, outreach, lifestyle modeling and faith
that will facilitate revival when God chooses to touch the nation in
that way.”

Survey
Methodology

This information is based on telephone interviews among a
national sample of 610 Protestant pastors conducted in June 1998.
The research was a random sample of churches from among the
estimated 324,000 Protestant churches in the United States.
Denominational and regional quotas were used to ensure a
representative sampling of churches by affiliation and by location.
The maximum sampling error associated with this survey is ± 5
percentage points, at the 95% confidence level. This research was
part of the

PastorPoll
, an omnibus survey among pastors of Protestant
churches in the 48 continental states.

The survey of adults was a national telephone survey of 1,015
interviews conducted in July 1998 among a national sample of people
18 or older, called

OmniPoll
. Adults in the 48 continental states were eligible to
be interviewed and the distribution coincided with the geographic
dispersion of the U.S. adult population. The maximum sampling error
is ± 3 percentage points, at the 95% confidence interval.

All of the interviews were conducted from the Barna Research
Group telephone interviewing facility. In both studies, multiple
callbacks were used to increase the probability of including a
reliable distribution of all types of churches and a reliable
distribution of adults in the studies.

Gospel Light, one of the nation’s leading publishers of
Christian books and Sunday school curriculum, commissioned the
research. Gospel Light is located in Ventura, California.


The Differences Between
Pastors and Church Attenders

churched

pastors

believe that revival is taking
place

50%

54%

revival is the most pressing
issue facing church

51%

66%

church will do as much as
possible to promote revival

56%

67%

pastor asks the congregation to
fast or pray for revival

40%

66%

pastor preaches a sermon on the
need for revival

no data

75%

pastor organizes a prayer group
or prayer event for revival

no data

52%

Footnotes:

Footnotes:
2 A
“correct” description

of revival refers to those individuals who said that revival was
behavioral change or repentance; finding a deeper relationship with
Jesus, acceptance of Christ, conversion, or evangelism; engaging in
specialized prayer activities; or renewing a person’s spirituality
or faith. Any one of those descriptions would have been considered
an accurate description of revival. At no point in any of the
research were respondents given a definition of spiritual revival;
that was left to their own interpretation of the term.

Incorrect
definitions
of revival included such things as reading
the Bible more, attending church more frequently, examining New Age
spirituality, or simply talking about God or Jesus. Some people
thought that spiritual revival was not a thing but a place, like a
specific meeting or a tent revival. Other incorrect definitions of
spiritual revival included such things as the following: the
modernization of churches, getting connected with nature, learning
the history of religion, becoming more accepting of other people,
engaging in a religious pep talk, or renewing the evolution debate.


1

(Source:

Barna Research Group
, Ltd., Ventura, CA) at


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